Ion Izagirre took stage four of the Tour of the Basque Country 2021 in a photo finish ahead of fellow Basque rider Pello Bilbao from a select group that went away on the descent of the final climb.
Izagirre (Astana - Premier Tech) went away with three other riders including third overall, Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates), to bridge to Esteban Chaves (BikeExchange), and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) before powering to the line and narrowly beating Bilbao in the sprint.
Behind, the peloton was very disorganised with only Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) willing to do work on the front of the bunch until around 4km to go when help eventually arrived.
Because of the poor chase, McNulty turned his 30-second deficit on overall leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) to a lead of 23 seconds as he goes into the yellow jersey of the overall leader going into stage five tomorrow.
How it happened
The day started in Vitoria-Gasteiz with yet another undulating profile to get over before finishing in Hondarribia after 189.2km.
Just four men managed to get in the break in the end after a big battle to get up there, but didn’t manage to get a gap bigger than four minutes. The riders who made it up there were Jefferson Cepeda (Caja Rural), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo), and Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citroën).
The gap was being dragged back very quickly as they hit the penultimate climb of the day, the famous Jaiskibel. Various teams took on the pacing bringing the gap down to under a minute with 43km to go.
The break broke down with O’Connor and López going away from the other two riders who were swallowed up by the peloton, holding 44 seconds over the top.
Team BikeExchange were the team that decided they would be the ones to have full control of the pack just before the top of the Jaiskibel with Adam Yates’ Ineos Grenadiers squad sitting just behind.
UAE Team Emirates chose to lead the peloton down the descent with Marc Hirschi ahead of McNulty and Tadej Pogačar who was being closely followed by Roglič and Yates.
The break made it to the foot of the final climb of the Erlaitz as Lopez went clear solo to try and take the combativity prize for the day but he was brought back very swiftly by the UAE Team Emirates led peloton.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana - Premier Tech) was the first rider to hit out with Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) on the wheel. Pogačar jumped onto it which then brought it all back again.
Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) kicked on soon after but the big names were not keen on letting the Basque star get away with 24km to go. Esteban Chaves (BikeExchange) and McNulty pushed out of the group across to Landa.
Jumbo-Visma just kept the pace relatively high for Roglič with 24km to go, but McNulty continued to pull out the gap with Landa and Chaves following the young American. Chaves lost touch about 300 metres later.
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) upped the pace in the peloton for Roglič to pull McNulty, Landa and Chaves back just before the peak of the Erlaitz climb with 22km to go.
Chaves tried again on the descent with Bilbao and managed to pull out a decent gap. A counter-attack of defending champion Izagirre, Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Vingegaard and McNulty pushed across to the leading trio, making contact with 18km to go.
Back in the peloton it was Hugh Carthy working for his EF Education-Nippo leader and Colombian champion Sergio Higuita but nobody else was happy to work as the gap rocketed up to 22 seconds in very short order.
Carthy was not shutting the gap which then brought an attack from Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Carthy quickly got Higuita to follow but Roglič’s team-mate, Antwan Tolhoek was not allowing him to stay away.
No one was chasing in the peloton going into the final 10km which saw the gap go out to 53 seconds. James Knox (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) went solo to try and bridge the gap.
Buchmann attacked with 1.6km to go but Bilbao pulled it all back together again, Buchmann tried once more with 900 metres to go followed by a counter by Chaves with 700 metres. Back at the peloton, some helpers had got back in to help their leaders.
It was far too late though for the main pack. Chaves was caught with 200 metres to go when the sprint opened up, Bilbao and Izagirre battled to the line with the latter taking the stage. McNulty took an important four-second bonus in third place as he took over the overall standings from Roglič.
Stage five is seen as the Basque Country's version of a sprint stage, but it could be yet another exciting day of racing or even a long-range breakaway. The day starts in today's finish town of Hondarribia before heading over yet more hilly terrain to Ondarra after 160.2km.
Tour of the Basque Country 2021, stage four: Vitoria-Gasteiz to Hondarribia (189.2km)
1. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana-Premier Tech, in 4-17-07
2. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain Victorious
3. Brandon McNulty (USA) UAE Team Emirates
4. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Team Jumbo-Visma
5. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, all at same time
6. Esteban Chaves (Col) Team BikeExchange, at 2s
7. Patrick Bevin (NZl) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 49s
8. James Knox (GBr) Deceuninck - Quick-Step
9. Quinten Hermans (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
10. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team, all at same time
General classification after stage four
1. Brandon McNulty (USA) UAE Team Emirates, in 12-25-21
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma, at 23 seconds
3. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Team Jumbo-Visma, at 28s
4. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain Victorious, at 36s
5. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 43s
6. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 1-02
7. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1-07
8. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team, at 1-13
9. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana-Premier Tech, at 1-15
10. Mikel Landa (Esp) Bahrain Victorious, at 1-23
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